Different grains of Koa Wood - Fire, Tiger, Curly koa wood rings - close up of Koa wood grain

Koa wood is famous in Hawaii for many reasons, one being its decorative array of colors and grain texture. Curly, Fire, and Tiger Koa are the rarest, each displaying unique characteristics resembling their given names. The different colors of Koa wood are influenced by the tree’s age, the type of soil, and level of elevation that the tree grows in. Koa hues range from light golden blonde, to deep auburn red, to dark chocolate brown. The darker grain patterns add horizontal and vertical texture and it is the color and striping that creates the chatoyant three-dimensional appearance found only in Koa wood.

Curly Koa is named for its burl and swirly grain patterns showcased as playful spots and stripes with wavy figuring woven throughout the dark and light base wood. Curly Koa is found in only 1% of Koa trees as the wood grain is generally straight. The highest grades of wood are determined by the amount of curl that decorates the surface which is why Curly Koa’s high value is known worldwide.

Fire Koa’s colors also vary from light to dark, but what sets it apart from the other Koa woods are the darker flame-like streaks that jump in and out of its lighter core. Fire Koa has the appearance of being lit from within as the lighter shades of this wood are luminous and translucent. The fiery colors are different even within the same tree or branch adding excitement to every cut of wood.

Tiger Koa is a favorite of woodworkers and craftsmen; known for its exotic exhibition of tiger-like grain stripes and wide range of wood colors. Diagonal bands of color flow through this wood like the ocean’s current making it the top choice for furniture and guitar makers. Tiger Koa’s colors can be very pale beige or deep auburn red, but Black Tiger is considered the most valuable and hardest to find of all the Koa woods as it is usually from an ancient tree that has sunken upon itself because of its own heavy weight.

The Koa Tree is the only endemic tree to Hawaii and was once abundant throughout Islands being the first tree to grow from the lava, but today it is close to extinction. Federal law now forbids the tree to be cut and reforestation has been in full force so the curly colors of Koa Wood should be available for our children to enjoy.